Golf is More Than A Game

How two local football legends’ lives are transformed by golf in their battle with dementia

I’m incredibly proud to share this story with you. In recent weeks, the link between dementia and football has, quite rightly, been in the spotlight. Our governing bodies need to do more to support footballers with dementia. Whilst we cannot offer a cure for this terrible disease, we prove how sport, especially golf, can play a part in creating better outcomes when dementia tries to put an end to a sporting life. The determination to provide more families with the chance to keep that sporting spark in their life burns brighter than ever today. I hope you enjoy the story and help us raise awareness about our pioneering work.

More Than A Game is the incredible short film on how golf is helping transform the lives of two ex-professional footballers living with dementia.

Club record goal scorer, Jim Hague, and towering centre back, Fergus Donaldson are now in their 60s and 70s, but need no introduction to any seasoned Harrogate Town FC fan.

Their heart-warming story brings attention to the link between dementia and football that affects not just world winning heroes like Bobby and Jack Charlton, but also potentially thousands of ex-professionals from that era and how golf can be a solution to the growing dementia crisis.

More Than a Game

Landmark research

A 2019 landmark research project reported that former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia, and other serious neurological disease, confirming a long-suspected link between the sport and brain damage. The 22-month research project by the University of Glasgow’s Brain Injury Group also discovered there was a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s, a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease, and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s.

Transforming lives through golf

Golf In Society founder Anthony Blackburn, is on a mission to help transform the lives of an ageing population by introducing them to the health and wellbeing benefits of golf. Anthony and his team have delivered over 600 sessions across the UK supporting families facing challenges in later life including dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke and loneliness.

Jim and Ferg are just two of hundreds of people living with chronic illnesses whose lives have been transformed by Anthony’s Golf In Society sessions which gives them the opportunity to keep that “sporting spark” in their lives.

Anthony says: “It’s interesting that most of the people we support have enjoyed sport throughout their lives, however not always golf. What we do is extend people’s enjoyment of life and show them how golf can be their new sporting fix”.

Raising awareness of the global problem

Teaming up with Albatross Media, they have created a short documentary called ‘More Than A Game’ to showcase the incredible results Golf In Society is achieving at their various golf venues across the country.

“I hope the story of Jim and Ferg acts as a call to action to our health & social care stakeholders, political leaders, the golf industry and society as a whole as to how golf can play a leading role in improving the lives of our ageing nation.

“With the right support, our mission can be fast-tracked and the outcome will be more families benefiting from services like Golf In Society sooner than we imagined.

“If we’re serious as a nation about improving the health & wellbeing of families living with dementia, then services like ours, designed with our customers at the heart of them have got to be more widely adopted”

But the question I really wants to know the answer to is, after watching the film do you think that golf sessions like this should be made available to support more families living with dementia in the UK?

Anthony Blackburn – Founder

Can a common goal be the catalyst to new relationships?

Guest Blog – Written by Aidan Carswell

I believe it is.

So where did It all start?

My journey started when I was 11, both of my parents worked full time and as a result I spent a lot of my time after school around at friends houses or childminders, I loved it.

It opened my eyes up to activities and opportunities that I would never have thought of pursuing. One of these happened to be the wonderful world of golf!

One warm summer day after school, my friend’s mum took me to Ripon city golf club’s Driving range while her child had a lesson at the tennis centre. That was it. I was hooked or as some may say “he’s got the bug”.

I would beg to be dropped off at the golf club throughout the summer holidays where I would practise and play with my friends.

Saturdays were competition days, a chance to get your handicap down and maybe even take some money from the older guys (everyone was an older guy compared to me).

One of my first or it could have been my first ever Saturday competition, I was very anxious and nervous. I didn’t know anybody. I wandered up to the first tee with my tiny little golf clubs and a nervous smile on my face expecting to see three stern looking old men who didn’t really want to play with a little kid who’s just learning.

What I found was the exact opposite!

Three guys stood with big smiles on their faces having a laugh and a joke, they made me feel comfortable instantly. I felt even more comfortable when I watched two of them hit their balls straight into the water.

The one guy who had hit the green was Founder of Golf in Society Anthony Blackburn.

Although it turned out to be the only green, he hit that day, he made my first experience of competitive golf a fond memory, for this I am forever grateful.

I came in and out of golf through my teenage years, trial of life kept me away from golf for around 6 years. An outcome from my challenges had been the realisation that if I was to spend my time doing anything, it should have a positive impact on someone else.

I then decided to play golf again, I headed up to RCGC where it felt like I had never been away. One Saturday I headed to the tee where I noticed I was playing Anthony again, as if my golf life was coming full circle.

During the round Anthony told me about his Social Mission, Golf in Society. (https://golfinsociety.com/about/)

I was very interested in getting involved, this later led to me getting invited to some of the dementia & Parkinson’s golf days that Golf in Society run at Rudding Park Golf Club in North Yorkshire. (https://golfinsociety.com/current-golf-therapy-sessions/)

My experience was for no better word to describe “wholesome”.

The first thing I noticed was the genuine compassion and empathy that everyone had for one another, The outcome being an extremely enjoyable day where I got to spend time with people in their later stage of life who had been given obstacles that would only deteriorate and debilitate as time went on such as dementia & Parkinson’s.

Throughout the day I noticed some key aspects that really stuck with me.

Firstly, the warm welcoming atmosphere created by Anthony (Founder/Golf activator) as people arrived at the club, the caregivers left their loved ones in his capable hands while they went over to the clubhouse for tea and cakes.

The golfers then entered a world of banter, comradery and friendly competitiveness.

There was a range of golfers, from people who had always played golf to people completely new to the game.

I got to watch how a new client was integrated into the group and how the companionship of new friends really had an impact on him. The following week he was back again, and the group had gained another member. Proving to me how valuable the service that Golf in Society really is.

The Common Goal

I was aware of the benefits golf had on my own personal mental health and wellbeing, the feeling of bettering myself and the constant strive for improvement gave me a sense of purpose on the course.

The outdoors, nature and tranquillity gave me a place to reflect on my goals.

After spending a few days helping Anthony run sessions I realised we had a common goal.

To make a positive impact on society.

This solidified in my mind that Anthony’s & Golf in society’s mission was something I needed to be part of.

Although the way that I do that is always evolving.

I really can’t put into words the value of the service that Golf in society provides and the significant impact it has on the individuals involved and as you zoom out, the impact it has on how we approach helping those that have some difficulties later in life.

It truly is a social mission.

It truly highlighted for me the importance of making those later stages in life meaningful and purposeful.

To this day I feel motivated to contribute to the social movement that Anthony has started, and I will continue to do so.

Feel free to follow my journey as I navigate my way through life.

Written by Aidan Carswell